21, Place Vendôme
A tale of an encounter with history (of art and fashion) and the man in charge of its ‘to be continued’
Words by Raquel Fernández Sobrín
One, two, three. In the third identical room at the second floor of the Hôtel de Fontpertuis, the address where Elsa Schiaparelli established her firm in 1935, the light that comes through the balconies is blinding and the silence, only interrupted by a closing distant door and the sound of steps revealed by the wood floors, imposing. It is the perfect example of a couture house, a place where the great salons only opened to visits by appointment almost make you forget that the things that keep it running happen in the shadows of its interior rooms. This is my third meeting of the week with Schiaparelli. The first one, on Monday morning, was the beginning of the haute couture presentations and the confirmation of Daniel Roseberry as the perfect match for the house. The second one, a floor above my head here at the 21 of place Vendôme on Tuesday, the chance for a tête à tête with the Spring/Summer 2020 collection. There isn’t a petal rain this time, but it’s definitely not missed. Up close, the volume of the fifth look is an actual sculpture, what the eye understood as watery silk on the 25th is revealed as tiny paillettes and the last homage to the Bone Dress doesn’t need a model to convince you of its ability to walk out of the room in any given minute.
Twenty four hours later, the view of the monument that stands in the middle of one of Paris’s most famous squares, where the companies with the most sustainable businesses of the fashion industry (always ‘haute’, whether couture or joaillerie) live together, makes the waiting lighter. He is late, but his way of apologizing fades away any suspect of a staged fashionably late. Despite the flooded schedule, of the fact that he has given around 15 interviews in the last two days (I’ll discover later that he is also immersed in the filming of a mini documentary about his first year at the firm) and that when we speak of couture the question of the sales is immediately solved, Roseberry is quite calmed. Or he seems calmed. As relaxed as after a long bath. “I like interviews, I’m pretty open (sometimes too open). I’m happy to be always meeting and having a conversation and finding a connexion”. Let’s connect some dots, then.
If we are here sharing a couch it’s only because Diego Della Valle, chairman of Tod’s Group, bought Schiaparelli back in 2006. If he waited six years before starting its revamping it’s because he doesn’t suffer the pressure of the hurry, which differentiates Della Valle from his peers. The Italian, the only executive able to convince Alber Elbaz to return to fashion after his heartbreaking departure from Lanvin, appointed a merely known Roseberry in April of 2019 after two failed attempts of revive the brand with designers Marco Zanini (2013) and Bertrand Guyon (2015-2019). The problem with Schiaparelli is difficult and simple at the same time: the legend of the woman who gave it her name, as Elsa’s character, is indomitable. A friendly approach is a victory, and only a respectful and skilled designer could accomplish that.
Schiaparelli wasn’t a designer, nor an artist. She navigated the places in between. “Dress designing… is to me not a profession, but an art”, stated in her autobiography Shocking Life, published in 1954. She dedicated her 40 year career, which started with a knitted tromp l’oeil jumper (1926) and gave us the Lobster Dress in collaboration with Dali (1937) and a jewellery collection made hand by hand with Giacometti (1935), to sustain a love affair between the fashion and the art worlds. According to Jean Cocteau, with whom she created some of her most famous pieces as well, “Schiaparelli is above all the dressmaker of eccentricity… Her establishment in the Place Vendôme is a devil’s laboratory. Women who go in there fall into a trap and come out masked”. Masked and transformed into artworks, because Schiaparelli was a pioneer in applying the concept of the artistic idea to dressing, becoming part if the surrealist movement in the way.
“I remember those visuals like everybody does because they get burned on your brain, there’s so much power there”
“She is kind of ground zero of what was happening at her time”, assesses Roseberry. “I remember those visuals like everybody does because they get burned on your brain, there’s so much power there”. The creative director has the manners. The ones required for the job and those that come with education. Born and raised in Plano, Texas, 34 years ago, he grew up surrounded by artists: “My mum side of the family, they are all artists: my mum, my grandma, all of my uncles except for one are artists. Really, really incredible artists. My dad’s mum is a sculptor in Arizona and my little sisters are very, very artistic. Their art was always a part of the conversation and I’ve been drawing before I could talk”. The interest in fashion was sparked by her sister in law’s wedding dress and turned on by a documentary on Michael Kors that he saw on television when he was 13 years old. He used drawing as a way to communication during his school years, at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York after that and across his ten year tenure at Thom Browne, five of which he carried the design director position for both mens and womenswear. “It has made me to stand up”. But it is well known that in life you have to let somethings go before embracing the new, and August 2018 found him sketching alone in his Chinatown apartment. He had left his position at the American brand and involved in developing the project to win the job at Schiaparelli. Roseberry reproduced the scene at his first couture show back in July, when he sat still in the middle of the presentation, drawing the looks as the models walked around him.
The idea of the designer looking for the spotlight doesn’t match the man by my side. His voice is low, none of his gestures exaggerated. He is wearing a navy blue uniform (“Personally, I prefer to dress very quietly. I’m not someone who’s going to be wearing fashion. I don’t buy designer clothes, I make my own suits and that’s what I wear all the time”), he knows how to stand still and how to properly sit, and not everybody gets to master that techniques. He doesn’t even enjoy fashion parties. But there is a double explanation for that move. On one side, being the son of an Anglican priest gave him the sense of ceremony. On the other side, as a man of his time, he is aware of the interest of the public on seeing something personal. It happened with that first show and happens with every Instagram post of the house. “For me, giving little pieces of yourself… there’s real power in that because I think that’s where the connexion is between me and my work, me and the people I work with and with the people who are really responding to what we are doing here. I think it’s because they do feel that there’s a human being behind it. That it is not done just for an image, just for the press… done because we are part of a huge machine. The power of being small is that we can be intimate and let the humanity of the collection and the process come through”. With his second collection that aspect became evident. “I felt that we found the language we speak now, where there is this emphasis on tailoring but kind of a new approach to it. We are romanticizing tailoring and making it feel liquid and easy and very chill and sexy. In addition of that, in my mind there is kind of this new approach to volume and doing things that feel drama in a new way, fresh and young. There is an innocence to it”. And how important is that.
“The power of being small is that we can be intimate and let the humanity of the collection and the process come through”
“This was the sequel to the first collection in the sense that the colour story was very similar (in my mind was the idea going back and finishing that story). I am starting to think about the next season, and I want it to build on itself but also really want to take it to the next level. To me is always about taking it to the next level. I don’t want to throw out the things that worked because people know they can come to us for those things but also challenge the atelier, challenge myself and challenge you guys to embrace a new message as well”. Good reviews are multiplying, so do the social media likes. By the kind of smile he can’t avoid when asked, also new exclusive couture clients: “We have some really cherished major clients which we definitely want to continue to nurture and to take care of, women that have been friends of the house, supportive and really patrons of the arts. I have no interest in not pursuing a deeper relationship with them but I also really want to bring in a new clientele, for both ready-to-wear and couture. There’s huge potential for a new way of women and men to be a part of our world here”. That reference to men isn’t a wish or a hope. He frequently dresses actor and playwrite Jeremy O. Harrys, proving that gender neutral clothing can get as far as where you want to push it. He has also been advocating for the antiracial cause and the Black Lives Matter initiative these days: “As a designer and an American, I am always reminded how indebted this country is to the beauty and brilliance of the black men, women, trans, and GNC, to whom we owe so much. To whom we owe our literal culture…”.
You can’t judge Elsa Schiaparelli and Daniel Roseberry by the same standards, they live different times and have different missions. But it looks as if Roseberry works with dreams driven by gut instinct, as the late designer did. Maybe his calmed attitude is related to that. Linked to the certainty of being on possession of the assets to help Schiaparelli to keep writing her story.
Photos: Schiaparelli/Portia Hunt.